Superior Sounds

By Jaime Nava

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Do you remember playing Tetris? Getting higher in levels meant the pieces fell down faster each time. It would make me so nervous, trying to flip that stupid piece with the block in the middle into the right place. What I never realized while playing was that the music was getting faster too. Interestingly enough, theme C of the three songs is J. S. Bach, digitalized. The fact that the music played faster while the pieces fell meant that I would get more nervous, especially with a French Suite (by a German) played at lightning speed. Music had an incredible impact on me. I think that the music is also what keeps that game popular, even today.

In 2002, the Tokyo Philharmonic sold out a concert under the conductor Nobuo Uematsu. The same thing happened a couple years later with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the same conductor playing the same music, selling out in only three days. The music in question was Uematsu’s work for the video game Final Fantasy. The music from a video game made such a lasting impact that it has been played by famous orchestras around the world. Sounds crazy, right?

That isn’t the only game, either. Every player can probably name a game they’ve played that, when hearing a set of notes, they will be carried back into a place where they learned, struggled, and succeeded (or failed like I did at Tetris). The intro to Battlefield 1942 or Morrowind are two that stand out for me. I’m sure there are others. It’s no longer the digital dropping sound of aliens on a spaceship or the drones of a dirt bike. There are timpanis, violas, oboes, and more combined together in their own way to enhance an experience. These are paid professionals that do nothing more than write music for video games and they are very, very good (and for Uematsu, probably wealthy). The flexibility of video games and their emotional synergy with experience are a prime conduit for music even though they didn’t start out that way. Music is a great teacher because it etches things we interact with into our minds. Music hasn’t gotten dumber in video games. It has grown more and more complex.

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Denominational traditions that have been around a while often lean toward a large collection of songs in a book. Interestingly enough, you can also discern some things from the music a denomination or even an individual congregation has in their pew or folding chair. First clue is dates. Look to see how far back the music goes. Why dates? Dates give a hint as to what is acceptable to an individual congregation. If songs go way back, that place considers that music, those writers, to be a part of that congregation. Or maybe that place considers itself the other way around, that it is merely a piece of a larger whole. Those places that don’t sing the old stuff don’t consider it worthwhile. If they did, they’d sing them, wouldn’t they?

As a whole, music in churches is really doing the opposite of video games. Video game creators understand the importance of complexity, even if it goes largely unnoticed by many. While the video game industry is creating music with depth, churches are making music with much less. One behemoth of the church music industry even felt it could jazz up silent night with the roaring 20’s. It’s this weird uncomfortable mix of what should be reverent with the Broadway show Chicago. There’s a funny joke that, if you know how to play three chords, G, C, & D, you can play most any praise song on the market (or at least 24 of them).

Can it be that some forms of music are superior than others? Yes. Even if a G-C-D song gives someone all the warm happy feelies. In my days after my conversion back into the fold, I remember singing some songs where the refrain was pretty much “Jesus” over and over and over and over. This isn’t meant to be a simple rant on poor lyrics or useless repetition. There’s plenty of those across the internet. My point is that music should be great and complex and important. That’s the kind of music that lasts from one generation to the next. We should not be writing throw away music that lasts as long as a generation. We should be using the best that Christians have to offer for the past 2,000 years. It reveals that the Christian church isn’t merely an exercise in fads. It reveals that the church is a lot older than any one generation. It reveals that the generations to follow need something deeper than three chord songs to last the test of time. How many of those folk Christian songs of the 70’s and 80’s are churches still using? Hokey doesn’t last.

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We need writers who believe as Luther said, “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. The gift of language combined with the gift of song was given to man that he should proclaim the Word of God through Music.” Music also teaches the faith. It’s not merely a gift we send up to God. It’s meant to be an echo of the Word of God set to the complexity of sound in order that we return to God what is His, and we also receive from Him His promises all at the same time. Are we so arrogant that we think we’ve done a better job at that these last 50 years than the church before us? Let’s compare this to this and you tell me which will last? For the love of God, can we not do better than this?

Music teaches. It sears ideas into our hearts. We should be using the best music we can find for the church. It should be teaching the faith and proclaiming sin and redemption, death and life. It should be quality stuff we’re not embarrassed to pass on to the next generation of Christians and the fifth generation of Christians from now. If video games can produce epic quality music that is complex and deep, don’t you think that we can do better?

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One thought on “Superior Sounds

  1. The type of church music heard in the Lutheran church I attend has a mix of the solid old favorites and some contemporary praise. Music is always changing as each generation of songwriters and composers create new sounds. There is a mix of some bad songs and some very good ones. In the marketplace of ideas and taste, as you point out..”the hokey doesn’t last.” I think we need to remember that the context of music is found in the culture and popular taste of the composers as well, and in the desire to be relevant to the specific time and place. Many good songs fall out of favor, although they have solid theology and a faith based message. It is because they no longer appeal to the culture. As for me, I am focused on lyrics and words in each song I hear, and I play 3 chord songs country gospel style finger picking on my acoustic. I am just a bare bones Fingerstyle guitarist and play between 2-6 chords average. I like some of the old songs because the messages are clear and simple, and the arrangements neither stuffy nor erudite.

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